We at Futurism Commerce will be the first to admit that we all have that old camera or laptop that’s been lying around the house for ages. Every week we say we’ll get around to finding someone to sell it to, or that one of our friends will definitely want it, or that we can just place it on the curb to be mysteriously snatched up. And, of course, every week, the device continues to gather dust in our home, much to our roommate’s chagrin.
But just like paper and plastic, electronic waste can be recycled — if you know how to do it properly. Before you dump your old device in the trash, see whether you can recycle it properly to help reduce its harmful environmental impacts.
Why Recycle Electronics?
Global electronic waste poses a massive environmental issue. As of 2019, the world produces nearly 50 million tons of e-waste every year, most of which ends up in landfills. On an immediate level, workers who process e-waste to extract materials like gold are often exposed to toxic chemicals and substances like lead and flame retardants, according to the World Health Organization. Those who don’t work in or near landfills are still affected — the United Nations Environment Programme reports that hazardous materials can seep into soil and groundwater, harming the communities whose food and water supplies rely on them.
When you dispose of your technology at an e-waste recycling facility, however, the organization disassembles and cleans devices to extract the useful materials. From there, the facility is often required to stick to state or city-determined regulations to minimize the environmental impact, according to Columbia University’s Climate School. Find out more about how we gauge sustainability.
What Can You Recycle?
The devices you can recycle often depend upon the facility you take them to. In general, the following are often accepted:
— Desktop computers, laptops, and tablets
— Cell phones
— Printers and scanners
— Digital cameras
— Televisions and TV accessories
— Fax machines
— Video game consoles
How to Recycle Your Electronics
If your device is just old but still functional, you can try reselling or donating it. But if it’s beyond repair, here are some options for recycling.
You can bring up to three items per day to any Best Buy store (even if you didn’t buy them from Best Buy). They accept a wide variety of products for free, from CB radios/scanners to projectors to speaker systems. Some items, like TVs under 50 inches and monitors, require a $29.99 fee per item (unless you live in California, which does not have store drop-off fees. Best Buy) does deny some items, like cable rooftop dishes, phone cases, air conditioners, and slow cookers, so be sure to check what Best Buy accepts as e-waste before bringing your devices to a store.
The retailer’s Haul-Away program means that when you buy a major appliance, large TV, or fitness equipment from Best Buy, they will take your old item for a fee (usually $29.99 or $49.99, depending on the item) and recycle it. If you just want to recycle a larger item without purchasing a new one, Best Buy will retrieve and recycle up to two large items and an unlimited number of smaller devices for $199.99.
To recycle tech, Best Buy sends the products to Regency Technologies or Electronic Recyclers International, where all data is wiped and the facilities determine whether they can be used or should be recycled. From there, materials are broken down and turned into new items.
Staples accepts dozens of items for free, from adapters to laptops to coffee brewers under 40 pounds, no matter where you bought them. They don’t accept alkaline batteries, appliances, floor-model printers and copiers, kitchen electronics, lamps or bulbs, large servers, large speakers, non-rechargeable lithium batteries, smoke detectors, and TVs. You can bring up to seven items per day to any Staples store for recycling, with the exception of smaller storefronts in New York City and Washington D.C.
Staples works with ERI Direct to recycle tech. Items are evaluated to see if they can be repurposed or should be broken apart for recycling. They are either cleared to re-enter the market, or they’re shredded and sent to downstream recycling centers.
Apple’s Trade-In program allows you to trade in iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple Watches, and Androids for an Apple gift card or credit toward your next purchase. If your item isn’t eligible for credit, you can still bring it to a store or send it via a prepaid trade-in kit to be recycled for free.
The Amazon Trade-In program accepts Kindle e-readers, tablets, media streaming devices, Amazon Echoes, Bluetooth speakers, headphones, home security equipment, wireless routers, cell phones, and gaming equipment. Amazon will either provide you with a gift card equal to the value of your device, or you can send the device to be recycled through Re-Teck.
The online retail giant also has a recycling program for small electronics. You can print out a shipping label for free, drop off the device at a UPS location, and Amazon will ship it to a licensed recycling facility. You will have to pay for the packaging, however.
Brands like LG, Xerox, Samsung, T-Mobile, Dell, Vizio, and Sony offer mail-in services to turn in devices for recycling (and some accept devices in-store, as well).
How to Find a Facility Near You
Many major cities offer e-waste recycling facilities. L.A. Sanitation has established numerous e-waste drop-off sites to accept items like air purifiers, cell phones, TVs, and microwaves. Chicago operates multiple drop-off locations that accept computers, TVs, keyboards, and more at specific times of the week. Austin’s appointment-only Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center accepts TVs, computers, electronic media, cell phones, and some large and small appliances. There are also hundreds of facilities throughout New York State and some municipalities schedule specific dates for e-waste collection. We would recommend checking your city or state government’s website for updated lists of the best facilities near you.
If you'd like to do more to reduce your impact on the environment, consider the best rechargeable batteries, the best solar panels, and the best solar generators.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.